What My Mentors Stole
Two people I considered mentors, who are established, highly decorated photographers recently wrote this in their newsletter: “A few years ago we wrote this article about people not wanting to have their photograph taken. We decided to reprint it this month as we keep hearing from people making excuses about why they don’t want their photo taken.” What follows that introduction is a copy/paste of almost my entire blog post So You’re Feeling Too Fat to Be Photographed. The trouble is, dear mentors, you didn’t write it. You stole it. You stripped all identifying information out of the essay and plagiarized it for your own gain.
Since my blog post went viral in 2013 (and mini-viral each time Huffington Post shares it again) I have had many, many photographers copy the text and claim it as their own. But you? I shook your hands only two short months ago when you were acclaimed guest speakers at the small, exclusive photography conference I attended in Tampa, Florida. You were brought in as mentor photographers, with stacks of well-earned Professional Photographers of America (PPA) medallions hanging from your necks. When we talked before breakfast I absorbed your every word, and fought the urge to take notes and instead just ‘be cool’ as you talked about our industry. You told me all about how you had built your businesses separately, and then together as photography partners. Being so tall myself, we had some great laughs about your signature catch phrase “head and shoulders above the rest.” My admiration for your talent, accomplishments, and business savvy held my face in a perma-grin as you spoke to our group. The lessons you shared on networking, marketing, and knowing your value were a large part of the reason I came home from that conference feeling a little taller, a little more “head and shoulders above the rest” myself.
When I happened across your most recent email campaign, the one a mutual friend had posted to her Facebook page, I eagerly opened the newsletter, excited to hear the latest news from your studio. When I read it I sucked all the air out of the room and grabbed my chest while my husband, startled said “What? Teresa! What? What is wrong”?! I was, and still am, a little in shock. You were claiming to have written my words, and using it as a call to action to get people to book a session with you.
Part of me just wants to pretend it never happened and assume that you somehow didn’t know better, or that some intern did it (because the intern or “web guy” always gets blamed). But then there it is, in plain text, “we wrote this…”. No photographer makes it as far as you two have in your careers and doesn’t know what copyright and plagiarism are. You’d never dream of taking another photographer’s photographs and claiming them as your own, would you? So why my words?
Is it because, I said it better than you could?
Of course it is.
Because I lived it.
I lived the fear of nearly losing my life, and realizing that I was going to be absent from every record of my existing because of how my fat made me scared to be photographed. I wrote those words because I came to the brink of death, with my car wrapped around a tree, and realized that someone else wouldn’t be so lucky. Someone’s mom was going to lose their son or daughter, like mine almost did, and have no photographs of their child’s life because they were once embarrassed about a fat roll. Someone’s husband would one day lose their spouse, like mine almost did, and seek comfort in a photograph. A photograph that wouldn’t exist because their spouse let her fat be bigger than her joy. That one day a photograph would be the only form of comfort a family member had . . . and that our insecurities in the present day would take that comfort away from everyone who would one day cry at their absence.
I didn’t end my blog post with a “so call me today to book your session” because that is shady, and corrupt, and not at all what this blog was about. This blog was about the pain some of us feel when the camera comes out that makes you want to run and hide. It was about being photographed by anyone on any type of camera, not just mine in a professional session. It was about being OK with looking how you look and recognizing the people that love you, love you just as you are.
You cheapened my words.
You cheapened my words, stripped them of all of the raw emotion and truth, and used them as a marketing campaign to make your photography business more money. You’re not the first to do it, you’re just the first people I’ve met face to face, admired, and considered mentors who have stolen from me in such a personal way. It is so hard to reconcile. How could you be both the talented photographers I admire, and surgically editing my blog post for your gain at the same time?
We have all lost a mentor.
We have all lost a mentor somewhere along the way. Someone you had great admiration for, whom you held in high esteem, who really let you down. A boss or coworker who took your idea and claimed it was their own. A leader who misrepresented their skills, based on taking advantage of your talent. I even had a spiritual mentor once, whose friendship I ended when she started insisting God “told her” I needed to buy in to her multi-level marketing scheme. It is deeply unsettling to have a mentor abandon the principles you saw in them as sacred. You question everything they have taught you and then you question yourself for trusting them.
When a mentor steals from you, whether it is an idea, or money, or credit, it feels like being the kid on the playground whose bike has just been stolen. You’re watching it circle the block under someone else’s ass, thinking . . . but that’s not your “new bike,” that is MY bike.
Photography mentors, you’re riding my bike. You stole it from me. I thought we were friends. You took my most heartfelt words, the ones I cried as I wrote and took them as your own. The thing is, I can take the lessons you taught me, stand head and shoulders above the rest, and know my value. I’m standing up for myself. I’m not letting you win this one and I’m taking my bike back.
This isn’t just my story. This is a lot of people’s story . Feel free to comment and share; I’d love to hear from you (and it might help me feel a little better).